Sunday, 22 June 2014

El Orfanato "The Orphanage" (2007) - ★★★★

Director: J.A. Bayona
Writer: Sergio G. Sanchez (screenplay)
Stars: Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Princep

I rented The Orphanage, expecting to be scared out of my wits. I did not expect it to be one of the most touching horror films I've ever seen. It holds a very dear place in my heart now, for it is one of only two horror films that has ever made me shed a tear (the other being Hideo Nakata's stunning Japanese horror, Dark Water) (2002). It's the kind of movie that spends most of its time creating such a stunning, perfect atmosphere. With this atmosphere, there is no need for cheap scares and thrills. The suspense was constant for me. While The Orphanage was suspenseful, it made me scream out loud only once (and trust me, I scream many times during most horror films). So it isn't all that horrifying, but the story, the acting, the music, the cinematography... every other aspect in this film truly captivated me. I really enjoyed The Orphanage. It's one of the best "horror" films I've seen in many years.

Laura (Belen Rueda) spent her childhood in an orphanage with 5 other children. Years later, she returns with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo), and adopted son Simon (Roger Princep), to re-open the orphanage and run it herself. She soon realises that they are not alone in the orphanage, for it holds a dark secret and many ghosts.

The Orphanage fits more as a "thriller" and "mystery," rather than a horror film. I was constantly pondering the 'who's,' 'what's', 'why's', and 'how's,' right up until the incredibly emotional climax at the tail-end of the film. At times I wondered if it would enter into the genre of fantasy, based on the general mood and supernatural elements within the film. It took me on a thrilling ride to find out the answers, and once the answers were revealed, it left me feeling more than satisfied. I felt elated.

The reason this film is so damn good, is because of the style in which it was made. Yes, the orphanage itself was quite eerie. However, the cinematography of the landscapes surrounding the orphanage were just stunning. The way the camera followed its characters, the masterful use of sound-effects, and the colour-contrasts throughout the movie just uplifted the whole experience. Above all, I found the score by Fernando Velazques to be the single greatest aspect of the movie. There's nothing like a great string orchestra to perfectly accompany a story, and bring out the tears.

The acting was fantastic on all accounts. Belen Rueda played a sympathetic and easy to like heroine. Most importantly, she played a believable mother that loved her son. Horror films are the worst genre for miscasting, but The Orphanage got it so right. The pure emotion that Rueda could express, then the calmness she emanated at the end of the film, was done to perfection. The supporting performances were also flawless to me.

As a child-care worker, the story that centred around the children of the orphanage really got to me. Particularly the story about Tomas, who is seen in the photo above. While most people think of horror when they see that photo, this movie just made me feel the deepest empathy for these children. I found it very hard to feel scared, mostly because this movie did such a damn good job at bringing the emotion out in the story of the children. Let's just say that the climax of the film made me cry for a good 10 minutes.

If you love horror for the cheap thrills and quick set-ups, then avoid this movie. It may just disappoint you. However, if you love a film that takes time to create an atmosphere and build a story, then The Orphanage would be perfect for you. It is one of the most well-made horror films I've ever seen. It's unforgettable, and one of the most touching experiences I've had watching a film.


  1. Completely agree, the film captivated me so much because it was beautifully moving.